Huge expansion of emergency satellite comms

nbn co ltd

By Jonathan Nally
Thursday, 17 December, 2020

Huge expansion of emergency satellite comms

Hundreds of new satellite dishes will provide better connectivity for first responders and the community.

Hundreds of Disaster Satellite Service communications dishes will be installed around Australia on buildings such as Rural Fire Service depots as part of the federal government’s $37.1 million Strengthening Telecommunications Against Natural Disaster (STAND) program.

The service provides a back-up communications connection that will be switched to ‘disaster mode’ during an emergency event, providing free full satellite broadband functionality, including Wi-Fi and video streaming.

Also part of the STAND program are five new satellite dish-equipped NBN Road Muster trucks and 12 satellite dishes in travel kits.

Almost 100 of the satellite dishes will have been installed, and all of the Road Muster trucks and satellite dish travel kits will have been delivered by the end of 2020.

The trucks and satellite travel kits can be deployed to provide temporary broadband connectivity for communities that have their normal communications disrupted by natural disasters.

The trucks connect to the internet via the NBN Co satellites and provide Wi-Fi internet connectivity within 20 metres of the vehicle. The satellite travel kits come in large briefcases, which can be delivered to remote locations to provide access to high-speed broadband.

“By offering broadband connectivity powered by the National Broadband Network’s Sky Muster satellites — which have coverage of all 7.7 million square kilometres of Australia and operate even when terrestrial mobile or fixed line networks have ceased operating — these dishes will help people in disaster-affected locations stay in contact before, during and after a bushfire or other disaster,” said the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, Paul Fletcher.

Satellite service

The first of the new Disaster Satellite Service installations was unveiled at Namadgi in the ACT on 9 December, following the awarding of a grant of $7 million to NBN Co to install units at designated emergency management sites and evacuation centres. Around 95 will have been installed by the end of 2020, with the remaining locations to be equipped in 2021 as agreed between the federal, state and territory governments.

The locations slated to have received the installations by the end of 2020 are as follows:

Australian Capital Territory: Namadgi National Park Visitors Centre, Tidbinbilla National Park Visitors Centre, Hall RFS Base, Guises Creek RFS Base, Southern Districts RFS Base, Tidbinbilla RFS Base, Rivers RFS Base, ESA Training Centre, Murrumbidgee Parks & Conservation Service Depot, Bendora Dam Parks & Conservation Service Depot, Glendale Parks & Conservation Service Depot, Gudgenby Homestead Parks & Conservation Service Depot.

Tasmania: Lilydale Memorial Hall, Wynyard Sports Centre, Swansea Town Hall, Mathinna Recreation Ground, Karoola, Miena Community Hall, Huon Valley PCYC Building, Elma Fagan Community Centre Waratah, Pyengana Hall, Town Hall – Currie, Sorell Memorial Hall, Sheffield Kentish Town Hall, Alonnah Hall, Redpa Recreation Centre, Queenstown Sports Stadium, Nubeena Recreational Ground.

South Australia: Victor Group Base, Kangaroo Island Group Base, Tatiara Group Base, Gambier Group Base, Kingscote Station, Loxton SES, Mallee Group Control Centre, Netley SES.

Western Australia: Wapole Community Hall. DFES Broome, Jurien Bay Football Oval, LG Shire Office, Private, Bremer Bay Sports Club, Leeman Sports Oval, Peaceful Bay.

Victoria: Bairnsdale City Oval, Cann River Rec Res, Paynesville Rec Res, Mallacoota Main Hall, Omeo Rec Res, Buchan Rec Res, Lakes Entrance Mechanics Hall, Cudgewa Temporary Community Support Hub, Licola Wilderness Village, Towong Temporary Community Support Hub, Tintaldra Temporary Community Support Hub, Myrtleford Sports Stadium, Orbost Cricket Club Oval, Myrtleford Senior Citizens Centre, Ovens DELWP Office, Mitta Valley ERC, Lucyvale/Berringama Temporary Community Support Hub, Eskdale ERC.

Queensland: Biloela Civic Centre, Collinsville Community Centre, Gloucester Sport and Recreation Building, Mackay Entertainment and Convention Centre, Bob Wood Hall, Sarina, Kianga Hall Moura, Robert Schwarten Pavilion, Taroom Town Hall, Cooktown Event Centre, Bundaberg Multiplex Sport and Convention Centre, Bundaberg Recreational Precinct, Ingham Showgrounds Pavilion, Townsville Stadium.

Road Muster trucks

“The devastation of last summer’s bushfire emergency reinforced the importance of connectivity in disaster situations and the important role NBN Co can play with the retail service providers in supporting communities when they are most in need,” said NBN Co Chief Development Officer Regional and Remote Gavin Williams.

“While, of course, we hope never to see a repeat of last summer’s events, we welcome the opportunity to further increase our capabilities to support retail service providers, emergency services personnel and the communities impacted by these devastating events.”

The NBN Road Muster trucks provide a range of capabilities, including:

  • a secure Wi-Fi hotspot surrounding the truck, whilst simultaneously supporting public access Wi-Fi in a nearby building through a deployable access point
  • industrial-grade computer equipment designed to better withstand heat, dust and vibration
  • mobile phone access via VoIP apps where normal reception or infrastructure is not available
  • a built-in mobile repeater designed to boost mobile phone signal strength for emergency workers in areas of poor reception
  • a large LCD screen and loud speakers mounted on the outside to communicate crucial information to the public
  • up to 15 people to plug in and charge their mobile phones.

A Road Muster truck in a garage

One of the five new Road Muster satellite communications trucks funded under the STAND program. Courtesy NBN Co.

“Last summer, we worked with retail service providers to install temporary emergency satellite infrastructure to more than 30 evacuation centres and 10 emergency response centres across New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia to support more than 5000 residents, business owners and support staff during the bushfire crisis.

“By providing free satellite Wi-Fi services and mobile device charging facilities during the emergency we were able to help keep families and loved ones connected and provide vital communication services into areas that otherwise might not have had them.

“Our priority is to support communities and emergency services with connectivity when they need it most,” Williams said.

Building resilience

The federal government announced the STAND program in May 2020 as part of a $650 million funding package for recovery following last summer’s devastating bushfires and floods.

The program features four measures:

  • Strengthening the resilience of regional and remote telco networks through mobile network hardening ($18 million).
  • More temporary telco infrastructure deployments, such as the Road Muster trucks and satellite kits ($10 million).
  • Better telecommunications for rural and country fire service depots and evacuation centres ($7 million).
  • Improved coordination and communication for communities regarding access to telecommunications in emergencies ($2.1 million).

The $18 million hardening effort — which includes $10 million from the Mobile Black Spot Program — will be spent on providing backup power sources for mobile phone towers, to be known as the Mobile Network Hardening Program. Loss of mains power was the primary cause of base station outages during the recent bushfires.

The money will provide for batteries and diesel generators for base stations built under Rounds 1 and 2 of the Mobile Black Spot Program, to increase backup power duration from between 3 and 8 hours to up to at least 12 hours where possible.

There will also be a competitive grants process that will fund up to 50% of the capital cost for upgrades for other, high-priority mobile phone base stations. These upgrades will include improving backup power, infrastructure hardening measures and providing backhaul redundancy.

Images courtesy NBN Co.

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